What's the difference between "hundreds of thousands of" and "hundreds and thousands of"? Are they both correct?

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The difference is that "hundreds of thousands of" means "at least 200,000", but probably more. It's vague but huge (relatively), but "hundreds and thousands of" is illogical and semantically untenable. If you say "Hundreds and thousands of protesters gathered in the square", you're obviously equivocating ("attempting to deceive").

You can say that "Protesters came by the hundreds and thousands" to indicate, perhaps, the sizes of different groups of protesters arriving at different times and from different places, but it doesn't tell the reader/listener anything about the total number of protesters in the square.

  • 2
    I think you can usually parse it better as being semantically equivalent to hundreds and indeed thousands, as opposed to, say, hundreds if not thousands, or hundreds or even thousands. In practice it isn't normally used to refer to different-sized subgroups, even if that might seem more "logical". To some extent I think it's just a "pseudo-number" half-way between hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands, which are actually quite common in normal speech. – FumbleFingers Dec 23 '12 at 5:01
  • @Bill Franke Are you saying these usage examples are basically "equivocating"? – qazwsx Dec 23 '12 at 5:51
  • @user1664196: When I see that kind of usage, all I can say is that just as there is no accounting for taste, there is no point in trying to logically analyze an unclear, ambiguous, illogical idiom. If it's an idiom, then it is what it is & that's all there is to it. Most speakers don't bother to think about how they say what they say -- which is why so much speech & writing is sooooo clichéd -- and when they use "hundreds and thousands", yes, they're basically equivocating because they don't know how many people they're talking about, so all they can say is "lots" using meaningless numbers. – user21497 Dec 23 '12 at 8:07
  • I agree with Fumble Fingers that what the users really want to say is not what they actually say, & what they mean is not what their words actually mean, but that's true of all idiomatic expressions. How many folks really buy a farm or kick a bucket when they die? So people don't always say what they mean or mean what they say for a variety of reasons. Please don't say you know how many people are being referred to in those examples: incredible without statistical data from creditable research. Others can imitate the CGEL & rationalize "He gave it to John & I" into "good English". I can't. – user21497 Dec 23 '12 at 8:15

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